Saturday, July 23, 2011

 

MIXED SIGNALS ALONG THE BORDER

There's plenty of anecdotal ammunition to suggest that the "Council of the Federation" meeting of Canadian Premiers just wrapped-up in Vancouver accomplished almost nothing in unifying the provinces: The founder of the "council" Quebec's Jean Charest didn't attend and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty upped and left early to deal with matters back home.

Perhaps it's because there are five Provincial Elections in the works for the fall (and potential for a possible record seven elections) that just about everyone brought an intransigent series of wants and needs to the table. Quebec and Ontario want to re-open the Canada Health Act discussions; the Atlantic Provinces agitate for greater Federal Transfers; Saskatchewan is still smarting over the sale of Potash Corp. debacle; and Alberta and British Columbia want trade deals with the Far East.

With the provinces bickering over regional matters and without any common accord to raise pressure on the Federal Government, it's pretty clear that Prime Minister Harper's parliamentary majority in the House of Commons will remain free to set both the agenda and the course of debate come the return of Members of Parliament in the latter part of September.

Though the Obama Administration is somewhat pre-occupied with a debt crisis which threatens to flatten the planet's most powerful economy. Canada's Federal Government seems undeterred by evidence of the sputtering thirty year old "Mulroney" Conservative ideological belief that what ails Canada is easily fixed by increasing trade south with the Americans. If in a post 9/11 reality this simplistic solution worked then everyone assumes the provincial governments could easily be brought "on board" and their demands for additional funding from Ottawa (for whatever cause) would be satiated.

Unfortunately border perimeter security has been the all consuming top priority of the Government of the United States since the heinous attacks on the homeland ten years ago this fall. And, the reality no Canadian Government seems willing to acknowledge under the current circumstances is that trade and security are mutually exclusive. Add the ongoing melt-down of the United-States economy in the aftermath of the great-recession of 2008 and the attendant rise of American protectionism, and the pop-up perfect economic storm risks leaving Canada's export dependant provinces and Federal coffers battered and bruised beyond reasonable recovery.

Mr. Harper has vowed to press forward negotiating with the Americans to cut "red-tape" and bureaucratic inefficiencies which frequently trump reason at the border. But in reality, with the prospect of a bitter and divisive Presidential Election campaign just over the horizon, Mr. Obama's adversaries are sure to make sure America's security boot on Canada's economic throat remains firmly in place. Already the Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is being pressed to respond to a sharply critical report of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (The GAO) which claims that the American Customs and Border Protection Agency provides an "acceptable level of security along less than one percent of the border." The study commissioned by the GAO applied the criteria used by the US towards guarding its border with Mexico, and concludes that Border Patrol agents can exercise proper control over just 51 kilometers of the 6400 kilometer border between Canada and the United States - Based on its Mexican model, the GAO implies that the U.S. "does not have the ability to detect illegal activity across most of the northern border."

The Mulroney era free-trader model may have been good for business 30 years ago. Excepting Canada's finite vast energy resources; it now seems essential for our future prosperity as a nation to look outside of the immediate neighbourhood to modernize our trading model - Whether the provinces can agree or not on what precisely it is they want.

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